Bat Eared Fox:
The terms “cute”, “gregarious” and “playful” come to mind when one thinks of this small carnivore. This fox, as its name Megalotis suggests, has large pointed ears, which help it locate its prey.
The bat-eared fox has a shoulder height of only 30 cm, a length of about 75 cm and weighs less than 5 kilograms. Its fur is a beautiful silver-grey colour and it has a bushy tail about 25 cm in length. Cubs are born after a gestation period of about two months and are weaned in a year.
The cubs are born in complex underground dens, usually during spring or early summer and both parents participate in the care of the offspring. The male usually initiates the young in the art of hunting. Like the aardwolf, the bat-eared fox has a taste for termites, particularly harvester termites. It also feeds on insects, small rodents, lizards, small snakes and wild fruit. Bat-eared foxes are not generally noisy but they do make some sounds such as barking, growling and whining. They can also be heard calling one another with shrill “who-whowho” calls. They mark their territorial boundaries by urinating on bushes and trees. Bat-eared foxes are primarily nocturnal in most parts of South Africa, but in certain places, such as the Kalahari, they are diurnal during the cold winter months. Unfortunately, the survival of the beautiful bat eared fox is threatened by a loss of their natural habitat and by the trade in their skins. Today, it is a protected species and can be seen in a number of game reserves.
This animal is one of the most commonly found carnivores in South Africa. It is one of our most successful survivors and is often able to live almost unnoticed near human habitats. An interesting quality of this animal is that it pairs with a mate in a monogamous relationship that lasts throughout its lifetime. As its Afrikaans name, “rooi-jakkals” (red jackal) suggests, this animal is reddish brown in colour. As its English name suggests, it has a black back with streaks of white and grey. At its shoulder, it is about 40 cm tall. It is 110 cm long and weighs about 8 kg.
The black-backed jackal can eat almost any food and should perhaps rather be called an omnivore. Its dietary adaptation has contributed to its successful survival but this animal usually feeds on rodents, insects, moles, hares and the offspring of small- to medium-sized antelope such as impala, blesbok and duiker. It is also a prominent scavenger and plays an important part in the ecosystem by feeding on old, sick and injured animals. This keeps the selection of species at optimum levels. Black-backed jackal pups are usually born during the months of August, September and October, after a gestation period of eight to nine weeks.
There are two to six pups in a litter. Not only do both parents look after the young but sometimes even members of the previous litter will regurgitate food to feed their newborn brothers and sisters. Black-backed jackal calls are well known locally. When they make a wolf-like howl in communication, family members often answer the call. They also growl, yelp and yap when they come together in larger numbers and are mobbing a bigger carnivore.
Black-backed jackals are fairly intelligent animals and are known to learn from experience. They also share knowledge with others of their kind, especially with their mates and youngsters. They also avoid trouble as far as possible. These animals are to be found in game reserves and private game parks.
The caracal is a beautiful medium-sized cat; reddish brown in colour with faint orange white spots and unique black tufts on its ear tips. Like the bigger cats, it moves with exceptional grace and power. They are nocturnal animals and are therefore rarely seen. The caracal has a lean and muscular body, is roughly 40 cm tall at the shoulder and weighs between 15 and 20 kilograms. The caracal is an excellent hunter and is capable of bringing down prey much larger than itself, such as steenbok, duiker and sometimes springbok, impala and grysbok. It also preys on small carnivores such as the bat-eared fox, mongoose and black-backed fox. In the Western Cape, caracals hunt mountain reedbucks and rock hares.
Like most cats, they stalk their prey until they get very close and then rush the prey with blinding speed. Their powerful hind legs are capable of launching them up to five meters into the air and they take advantage of this ability to hunt birds as well. Like the leopard, the caracal can climb trees with ease. In areas where larger predators are found, the caracal will hoist its kill on trees and feed at leisure, keeping it safe from others. Cubs are born after a gestation period of approximately seventy-five days. They are born in lairs of thick bush or crevices among rocks,
in summer when food is abundant and cover is good. They stay with their mother for about a year after birth. The caracal is a solitary predator and they pair together only to breed. The only family unit is that of mother and kittens. To communicate, these animals purr, tweet, growl and they hiss when threatened. Caracals are found in a number of local. They occur in savannah and rocky areas. However, it is very difficult to spot them since they are nocturnal and extremely shy. Should you be fortunate enough to come across one, show it the same respect you would for its larger cousins. Remember, the caracal is a deadly predator and will attack if it feels cornered or threatened.
The cheetah is the fastest land mammal on earth. The Indians first called it “cheetah”, “the spotted one” because of the beautiful and splendid yellow coat dotted with black spots that adorns its streamlined body. Witnessing a cheetah accelerate to an incredible 100 km/h and bring down its prey is an electrifying experience and it is easy to imagine that this sight could have inspired the phrase “poetry in motion”.
At the shoulder, the cheetah reaches an average height of 80 cm, weighs 40 - 65 kilograms and is about 130 cm long. An easy way to tell the difference between a cheetah and a leopard is to look for the ‘tear’ marks, which run down from the cheetah’s eyes. Those who have never heard a cheetah call will be very surprised to hear it make an almost bird-like chirp. While they also growl, snarl and hiss like domestic cats, they do not roar as some people might expect them to. The cheetah’s main prey is medium to small antelope such as steenbok and duiker, Thomson’s gazelle and springbok.
There are accounts of males cooperating to hunt larger prey such as wildebeest. Cheetahs do not have a fixed seasonal breeding cycle and in this too, they are similar to leopards. Cheetah cubs are born after a gestation period of about three months. Usually two cubs are born in the litter, but occasionally there are up to six. Cubs stay with their mother for about two years, but sadly, most of them never live to adulthood because they are preyed upon by lions, leopards, hyenas, foxes and eagles, to name but a few. Being a comparatively frail cat, the mother often has to give up her young or risk being killed herself.
In areas where there is good cover or few predators, the possibility of a cheetah’s survival is quite good. Many people have heard of the king cheetah, a normal cheetah with a recessive gene inherited from both parents and not a sub-species as some believe. Both normal and king cheetahs can be seen in many local game reserves. Private land also provides sanctuary to these beautiful animals. A great deal has been done to save the cheetah from extinction. In South Africa several private endeavours such as the De Wildt Cheetah Centre near Hartebeespoort have contributed enormously to the survival of this species.
Even if it cannot be counted among the best-looking carnivores in Africa, this is certainly one of the most interesting predators. The spotted hyena thrives in a variety of habitats: desert, shrub land, savannah and dense forests. The variety of food that spotted hyenas will eat is astounding. They feed on zebras and on a variety of antelopes but rhinoceros and hippopotamus also form part of their diet, should this type of meal present itself. In difficult times they also feed on rodents, birds, insects and reptiles. The spotted hyena makes a variety of strange sounds, such as whooping, whining and lowing and they are sometimes heard making laughing and giggling sounds. Sounding eerily human, they have found their way into many African legends told around warm fires on cold winter nights.
The females are larger and heavier than the males and are the dominant sex. Large females can weigh up to 80 kg and stand about 90 cm tall at the shoulder. The spotted hyena is heavily built and has a large head and formidable jaws filled with teeth, which are used to tear off chunks of flesh. Its coarse fur is a brown buff colour, with blackish brown patches. Females have long external genitalia that resemble the male penis. This phenomenon is thought to be the result of the high levels of male hormones that the females carry.
It is a myth that the hyena is a cowardly scavenger. In fact, it is an efficient and deadly hunter and, despite its smaller size, will unhesitatingly challenge the lion for food. Should a group of hyenas come across a lone lioness, they will waste little time in killing their mortal enemy. Hyenas mark their territorial boundaries by pasting anal secretions on grass blades and defecating at specific sites. There is no specific breeding season for the spotted hyena.
Young are born after a gestation period of about three and a half months, usually two cubs in a litter. Cubs are born with their eyes open and are very aggressive to one another. Should both cubs be female (a rare occurrence), one will often kill the other. There are two other animals in the Hyaendidae family, namely the brown hyena and the aardwolf (earthwolf).
|Brown Hyena (Strand Wolf)
This is a somewhat smaller hyena than the spotted hyena, having a smaller build and a shaggy brown coat of long hair. The hair is thicker at the shoulder, which, when raised in anger, gives the animal a larger and fearful appearance. Like the spotted hyena, it also has a sloping back. In South Africa, the brown hyena is commonly known as the “strand wolf” (beach wolf). This animal is solitary and feeds mainly by scavenging.
The most surprising fact about this animal is that it feeds almost exclusively on termites
-a strange diet for a carnivore indeed. It also has a sloping back, like its two cousins and its body is reddish brown with black vertical stripes. Apart from its canines, which it uses in self-defence, its teeth are poorly developed, unlike its cousins.
At first glance, this looks very much like the king cheetah, only much smaller. It has a shoulder height of 50 cm and a length of 70 - 100 cm. The serval is golden brown in colour with large black spots all over, fused on the neck and shoulders. Its tail has distinctive black rings.
This carnivore locates its prey (usually rodents and insects) by using its keen hearing. Once the prey is located, the serval pounces on it, usually leaving the animal stunned. Occasionally they also hunt birds, fish, frogs and small reptiles. Kittens are born after a gestation period of about seventy days. The young are born in summer, when prey is easily found. Servals produce a variety of sounds, including snarling, hissing, purring and growling when they are angry. Servals prefer areas with adequate moisture and tall grass. They occur naturally in the Drakensberg Mountains and are found in several African game reserves.
Lycaon Pictus is Latin for “painted wolf” - an appropriate name, considering that the wild dog is also a carnivore. Like the wolf, it is a pack hunter, relying on its powers of endurance to run down its prey.
The wild dog is a lively animal, coloured in various shades of black, gold, grey, brown and white. It stands at about seventy-five centimetres high at the shoulder and weighs between twenty and twenty five kilograms.
The males are slightly larger than the females. Wild dogs are highly social animals. They hunt together in cooperative units a form of behaviour that ranks them as the most successful predators in Africa. Family units constitute between six and thirty individuals, led by an alpha pair. The alpha pair consists of the dominant male and female in the pack. Usually the alpha female is the only female in the pack to breed. Sometimes, one other female in the pack breeds too, as a backup for the pack, should the alpha female’s litter fail. In South Africa, research has shown that the wild dog is a seasonal breeder. Pups, usually between two and six, are born in winter after a gestation period of about seventy days. The pups are born in deep dens and for the first three months, they are suckled. After the first month, the pups start begging for food from other members of the pack who comply by regurgitating their food. This social system allows the alpha female to stay back and look after the young while the pack is off hunting, since the pack feeds her too. An amazing fact is that when the pups are old enough to join the hunt, they are allowed to feed on the kill first! The wild dog is a determined predator and capable of hunting large prey such as impala, waterbuck, wildebeest, kudu and springbok. They sometimes even hunt the mighty buffalo. Being rather small, they are not able to finish off their prey with a quick bite and therefore tear off chunks of flesh while the prey is still alive.
Their strong jaws and sharp jagged cheek teeth enable them to do this. Fortunately, their numbers make a quick job of the prey. They can eat a kudu to the bone in less than five minutes! Although it keeps quiet while hunting, at other times, especially during normal social scenes, the wild dog can be a rather noisy animal.
They bark and growl, make strange bird-like calls and individuals make “hoo-hoo-hoo” calls when trying to locate the pack. The killing method of the wild dog has earned it undue hatred from man. While the sight of an animal being fed on while still alive is certainly upsetting, it is a fact that, mercifully, the prey is usually in a state of shock and is not “aware” of its situation. In ignorance, the European settlers killed off most of these beautiful predators from the African plains.
Today, there is great urgency to save this species from extinction and local conservation bodies, together with international organizations, are struggling to save the wild dog from extinction.
This endangered predator can be seen in a few game reserves in South Africa, such as the Kruger, Pilanesberg, Madikwe and Hluhluwe-Umfolozi reserves. Smaller reserves have also introduced them in recent years and they are also to be seen in several private parks and farms.